China and US Exchange Shots Over Internet Human Rights

The United States has recently issued a report slamming China for an abysmal human rights record. Meanwhile, China hit back at the United States with a report of their own slamming the United States for an abysmal human rights record. We did some digging and found both reports so you can read both of them for yourself.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

If you are hoping for a news story that won’t depress you, you might want to hit the back button and find a different story to read here on ZeroPaid. We learned about duel of the two reports on CNN where China was striking back against the United States for human rights violations. Mixed in both reports are issues of free speech and internet control. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a link to either report on the CNN website, so we did some digging on our own to find the original reports so we could have a chance at looking at each report from an objective perspective.

United States on China

The first report was the United States on China’s human rights record. You can find the report on the Human Rights Watch website in both HTML and PDF formats.

One paragraph reads:

The government also censors the internet; maintains highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia; systematically condones—
with rare exceptions—abuses of power in the name of “social stability” ; and rejects
domestic and international scrutiny of its human rights record as attempts to destabilize
and impose “Western values” on the country. The security apparatus—hostile to
liberalization and legal reform—seems to have steadily increased its power since the
2008 Beijing Olympics. China’s “social stability maintenance” expenses are now larger
than its defense budget.

A second paragraph reads:

In February 2011, unnerved by the pro-democracy Arab Spring movements and a
scheduled Chinese leadership transition in October 2012, the government launched the
largest crackdown on human rights lawyers, activists, and critics in a decade. The
authorities also strengthened internet and press censorship, put the activities of many
dissidents and critics under surveillance, restricted their activities, and took the
unprecedented step of rounding up over 30 of the most outspoken critics and
“disappearing” them for weeks.

Another paragraph reads:

The government continued in 2011 to violate domestic and international legal
guarantees of freedom of press and expression by restricting bloggers, journalists, and
an estimated more than 500 million internet users. The government requires internet
search firms and state media to censor issues deemed officially “sensitive,” and blocks
access to foreign websites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. However, the rise
of Chinese online social networks—in particularly Sina’s Weibo, which has 200 million
users—has created a new platform for citizens to express opinions and to challenge
official limitations on freedom of speech despite intense scrutiny by China’s censors.
On January 30 official concern about Egyptian anti-government protests prompted a ban
on internet searches for “Egypt.” On February 20 internet rumors about a Chinese
“Jasmine Revolution” resulted in a ban on web searches for “jasmine.” In August a
cascade of internet criticism of the government’s response to the July 23 Wenzhou train
crash prompted the government to warn of new penalties, including suspension of
microblog access, against bloggers who transmit “false or misleading information.”

It certainly paints a dire picture of China, but of course, we also have the other side of the debate.

China on the United States

Again, this particular report took some digging, but the full text is available.

On page 2, one paragraph reads:

While advocating press freedom, the United States in fact imposes fairly strict censoring and control over the press and “press freedom” is just a political tool used to beautify itself and attack other nations. The U.S. Congress failed to pass laws on protecting rights of reporters’ news sources, according to media reports. An increasing number of American reporters lost jobs for “improper remarks on politics.” U.S. reporter Helen Thomas resigned for critical remarks about Israel in June 2010 ( “Report: On the situation with human rights in a host of world states,” the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia, December 28, 2011). While forcibly evacuating the Zuccotti Park, the original Occupy Wall Street encampment, the New York police blocked journalists from covering the police actions. They set cordon lines to prevent reporters from getting close to the park and closed airspace to make aerial photography impossible. In addition to using pepper spray against reporters, the police also arrested around 200 journalists, including reporters from NPR and the New York Times (, November 15, 2011). By trampling on press freedom and public interests, these actions by the U.S. authorities caused a global uproar. U.S. mainstream media’ s response to the Occupy Wall Street movement revealed the hypocrisy in handling issues of freedom and democracy. Poll by Pew Research Center indicated that in the second week of the movement, reports on the movement only accounted for 1.68 percent of the total media reports by nationwide media organizations. On October 15, 2011, when the Occupy Wall Street movement evolved to be a global action, CNN and Fox News gave no live reports on it, in a sharp contrast to the square protest in Cairo, for which both CNN and Fox News broadcast live 24 hours.

Right below was some commentary on Internet freedom in the US:

The U.S. imposes fairly strict restriction on the Internet, and its approach “remains full of problems and contradictions.” (The website of the Foreign Policy magazine, February 17, 2011) “Internet freedom” is just an excuse for the United States to impose diplomatic pressure and seek hegemony.

The U.S. Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act both have clauses about monitoring the Internet, giving the government or law enforcement organizations power to monitor and block any Internet content “harmful to national security.” Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 stipulates that the federal government has “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under a declared national emergency. According to a report by British newspaper the Guardian dated March 17, 2011, the U.S. military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas, and will allow the U.S. military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The project aims to control and restrict free speech on the Internet (The Guardian, March 17, 2011). According to a commentary by the Voice of Russia on February 2, 2012, a subsidiary under the U.S. government’ s security agency employed several hundred analysts, who were tasked with monitoring private archives of foreign Internet users in a secret way, and were able to censor as many as five million microblogging posts. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security routinely searched key words like “illegal immigrants,” “virus,” “death,” and “burst out” on Twitter with fake accounts and then secretly traced the Internet users who forwarded related content. According to a report by the Globe and Mail on January 30, 2012, Leigh Van Bryan, a British, prior to his flight to the U.S., wrote in a Twitter post, “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” As a result, Bryan along with a friend were handcuffed and put in lockdown with suspected drug smugglers for 12 hours by armed guards after landing in Los Angeles International Airport, just like “terrorists” . Among many angered by the incident in Britain, an Internet user posted a comment, “What’ s worse, being arrested for an innocent tweet, or the fact that the American Secret Service monitors every electronic message in the world?” (The Daily Mail, January 31, 2012)

Once again, we get a picture that doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty sight.

Our Thoughts

From an objective point of view, when I read these reports, I can’t help but get the image of two jail wardens screaming at each other that the other has imprisoned their own people. You can envision the dialogue amounting to, “You’re a violator of human rights!” “No, you’re a violator of human rights!”

It’s pretty fair to say that neither country has been exactly perfect on allowing free speech online. This, of course, isn’t really new. We reported that both China and the United States both tried to have content taken down on Google.

You almost wonder if both countries are to spending more resources trying to blame each other for a cracking down on free speech online than actually fixing the problems in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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